Leaders attending the Bonn Conference on the future of Afghanistan must make an explicit declaration that women's rights will not be negotiated away in any peace deal with insurgent groups, ActionAid said today.
Foreign Ministers and officials from more than 65 countries and international bodies, including Foreign Secretary William Hague and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as Afghan President Hamid Karzai, will attend the one day conference on Monday to discuss a road map for Afghanistan as international troops begin to withdraw.
Zohra Moosa, ActionAid's women's rights advisor, said: "Exactly ten years on from the first Bonn Conference on Afghanistan, this is the perfect place for international leaders to stand by the promises that were made to women in Afghanistan in 2001. Then, the way women were treated under the Taliban was given as one justification for military intervention.
"As a key delegation, the UK has an important role to play at the Bonn Conference and beyond. The British government has not yet made a clear public statement about their position on women's rights in a future Afghan settlement. They must do so now and make clear that the UK will only accept a political settlement which guarantees the protection of women's rights, including their right to an education, to work and to political participation as enshrined in the Afghan constitution."
ActionAid says women in Afghanistan are concerned that advances in women's rights will be reversed if the Taliban or other insurgent groups have a role in a future government. The charity warns women are being kept in the dark about peace talks between the international community, Afghan government and insurgent groups ahead of the planned withdrawal of international troops in 2014.
ActionAid recently carried out a rare survey of 1,000 women across Afghanistan which revealed two thirds of women feel that their lives have improved since the fall of the Taliban but that nine out of ten are worried about a return to Taliban-style government - with one in five of them citing their daughters' education as the main concern. More than one third are worried about what will happen when international troops leave.
Selay Ghaffar, executive director of ActionAid's partner HAWCA (Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan), is one of only two civil society representatives who will be speaking at the conference.
She said: "All the promises made at Bonn 2001 have yet to be fulfilled. Bonn 2011 offers a new door for Afghanistan, but it should not be just another paper conference. We want honest commitments from the Afghan government and the international community that democracy, human rights and women's rights will be delivered. And that peace will come with justice."
ActionAid has been calling for at least 30% of participants in all peace and reconciliation processes on Afghanistan to be women, so is pleased to see that 33% of the Afghan government delegation to the Bonn Conference is made up of women.
Afghan and international leaders must ensure that the transition to peace in Afghanistan protects the gains made for women in the last ten years. They must commit to supporting and defending the women who have been standing up for the rights of women at great personal cost over the past decade, as they are at risk of attack when international troops withdraw.
In addition the strategic pact to be signed between the UK and Afghanistan governments in December must ensure women's rights remain central in Afghanistan's transition to peace, which will only be successful if women's access to justice, security and basic rights are preserved.